The raw food diet is a diet based on unprocessed and uncooked plant foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, and seaweed. Heating food above 116°F is believed to destroy enzymes in food that can assist in the digestion and absorption of food. Cooking is also thought to diminish the nutritional value and “life force” of food. Typically, at least 75% of the diet must be living or raw and food. Proponents of the raw food diet believe it has numerous health benefits, including:
- Increased energy
- Improved skin appearance
- Better digestion
- Weight loss
- Reduced risk of heart disease
The raw food diet contains fewer trans fats and saturated fat than the typical Western diet. It is also low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium, folic acid, fiber and health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals. A study at the German Institute of Human Nutrition determined that consumption of a raw food diet lowered plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, both of which have been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Critics of the raw food diet say while it’s true that some enzymes are inactivated when food is heated, it doesn’t matter because the body uses its own enzymes for digestion. In addition, cooking makes certain phytochemicals easier to absorb, such as beta-carotene in carrots. However, specific cooking techniques are used with a raw food diet to make foods more digestible and add variety to the diet, including:
- Sprouting seeds, grains, and beans
- Juicing fruit and vegetables
- Soaking nuts and dried fruit
- Dehydrating food
People who eat a raw foods diet are often vegans, which means they do not any animal products. When eating this type of restricted diet, people must be aware that certain nutritional deficiencies can occur, as can happen with any vegetarian diet, including calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that a raw food diet increased levels of homocysteine due to vitamin B12 deficiency. Elevated homocysteine levels have been associated with a variety of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, ADHD, depression, autism, and schizophrenia.
According to other alternative diet theories, such as macrobiotics, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine, a raw-only diet may not be appropriate for people living in colder climates or for people with certain constitutional types. Even in warmer climates, warm foods tend to be more appropriate during winter months.